You can not live in New York City, and not have clearly etched memories of where you were that bright, sunny day in September 2001.
I lived on East 28th Street. That morning I was out walking my four-month old puppy. My attention was centered on the fact that this hyperactive little creature had just mastered the concept of relieving herself outdoors. A series of fire trucks from the station house around the block went speeding down Second Avenue, sirens blaring. I didn’t give it much thought. Minutes later, a cell phone call from my brother informed me that something strange was going on at the World Trade Center…a stunt with an airplane landing on the Twin Towers.
When I got home and turned on the local news station, I was expecting to hear about a Philippe Petit type feat. The story that unfolded left me, and the rest of the nation, dumbfounded.
I saw the second plane crash into its target, and then both towers crumble. I felt like I was watching an over-the-top scenario in an end-of-the-world movie. Soon the streets outside my window would be part of the stage set, as people began streaming north in the long trek away from what newscasters were already calling “ground zero.”
Photographs of people started going up all over buildings adjacent to The 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street. There, an information and counseling center for the families of those who were missing was established. Physical descriptions and phone numbers were accompanied by the haunting phrase, “Have you seen this person?” The New York Medical Examiner had set up shop to the east, where people were bringing hairbrushes and toothbrushes to be tested for DNA samples.
My 7-year-old son’s teacher called to ask if I wanted to pick him up. Since the school was located in the nineties, and we lived in the shadow of the Empire State Building, I requested that he remain there until the end of the day. With the bulletins of the Pentagon attack and the plane going down in Pennsylvania, anything could happen next.
Everybody in New York City knows somebody, or somebody who knows somebody, who died that day. A nephew of a friend, a neighbor that didn’t come home, a fireman from the local neighborhood, the woman from the cleaners who lost her only child.
The Jews say a mourner’s prayer for the dead. They commemorate the anniversary of a death by observing Yahrzeit for the deceased. When you lose an immediate family member, you become part of that group for whom the prayer is personal.
Every 9/11, it becomes personal. It is impossible not to feel the weight of all the souls that left the earth that day. This year, with the election upon our country, the intensity of remembrance feels even more powerful.
I fervently hope that each individual voter will take it upon him or herself to decide on our new national leaders with a depth of reflection.
Our future depends on it.